SZABO, Violette, G.C. (1921-1945)
Plaque erected in 1981 by Greater London Council at 18 Burnley Road, Stockwell, London, SW9 0SJ, London Borough of Lambeth
VIOLETTE SZABO. G.C. 1921-1945 Secret Agent lived here SHE GAVE HER LIFE FOR THE FRENCH RESISTANCE
Secret agent Violette Szabo was the first British woman to be awarded the George Cross. As her blue plaque at 18 Burnley Road in Stockwell records, she gave her life for the French Resistance.
Born in Paris to an English father, Charles George Bushell, and a French mother, Reine Leroy, Violette moved to 18 Burnley Road with her family in 1935 and attended the London County Council school in Stockwell Road. The Bushells’ home consisted of the basement, ground floor and one room on the first floor of the house. When the war came, she was still living at number 18 and was working in the perfume department of the Bon Marché store in Brixton, but her ordinary life was soon transformed.
In 1940 Violette met and married a French officer of Hungarian parentage – Étienne Szabo – who almost immediately joined the Free French forces in north Africa. She continued living with her parents until early 1942, when she moved to a flat at 36 Pembridge Villas in Notting Hill, which was to be her last home. Her daughter Tania was born in June 1942.
Following her husband's death in action in October of that year, Szabo – described by her father as ‘always the tomboy ready for excitement and adventure’ – joined the French section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE).
Known as a crack shot, and for her striking good looks, she was sent into occupied France twice: first in April 1944 and for the second and final time two months later, when, shortly after her arrival, Szabo was captured by the Germans. After months of captivity – and refusing to speak under interrogation – she was executed along with two SOE colleagues at Ravensbrück concentration camp.
Szabo was awarded the George Cross posthumously and the award was presented to her infant daughter in 1946. Her story reached a wider audience with the 1958 film Carve Her Name with Pride, which featured several scenes filmed in Burnley Road.